historic streets of Nevada City date back to the
Gold Rush, when the New York Hotel was first built.
These days, the building houses a variety of shops
many Gold Rush towns, charming Nevada City, Calif., offers
a blast to the 49ers’ past. But this small town on the
Sierra’s western slopes, an hour north of Sacramento,
offers irresistible modern-day pleasures, too, from
burgers at the public house to a vintage boutique with a
"Burning Man wearables" section. There are
wine-tasting rooms, an artisanal ice cream shop and —
did we mention swimming holes?
not even sure where to start here — maybe with the
gauzy, skimpy, neon-hued Burning Man wearables? The sweet
red pepper and strawberry sorbet? Or the pulled pork
sandwiches with a side of hammered dulcimer and mandolin
leaves are just beginning to change color and there’s a
crispness to the air — or there will be soon. But the
ice-melt that feeds the South Fork of the Yuba River has
warmed to a more comfortable 70 degrees by now, so if you’re
feeling intrepid, there’s still time for one last dip on
a warm October day. Or, if it’s sweater weather when you
visit, a leaf-peeping foray that takes in the beauty of
this rugged region is just the ticket. Nevada City and
neighboring Grass Valley are prime fall-color terrain, as
the birch, amber, oak and century-old maple trees turn the
countryside to riotous shades of crimson, russet and gold.
this particular warm weekend, we’ve headed north up
Highway 49, thinking we’ll do a little camping, check
out the river and stroll through the historic town —
only to find the place so charming, we can barely tear
ourselves away. The entire downtown is a national historic
landmark, so when you pop into the Truffle Shop, for
example, to sate your chocolate cravings, you’re inside
the historic New York Hotel, which dates back to 1880.
town itself dates back to 1849, when it was known as Deer
Creek Dry Diggings — and later as Caldwell’s Upper
Store, named for a local shop frequented by gold miners
and early settlers. In the 19th century, Nevada City was a
bustling metropolis. Today, it’s a Victorian-era
charmer, with enough amusements to fill a weekend
you prefer to operate on the "life is short, eat
dessert first" principle, begin your visit by
following the trail of happy ice cream cone-toting kids to
Treats, Bob and Peggy Wright’s tiny (and fabulous)
creamery, which traffics in handmade, organic ice cream
and seasonal sorbets. The Riverhill Red, for example, is a
sweet red pepper and strawberry blend made from fruit from
Riverhill Farm on the outskirts of town. The Swiss Orange
Chip blends orange oil into milk chocolate ice cream to
re-create the flavor of those chocolate oranges you get in
your Christmas stocking.
polish off our ice cream before exploring the neighboring
storefronts, peeking into the bookshop and the
aforementioned vintage store (cool bow ties, as well as
Burning Man-appropriate garb), before ducking into the
Earth Store, a science and nature-themed gift shop, to
pick up a small, inflatable solar lantern. We’d
discovered the lanterns at the Inn Town Campground — Dan
and Erin Thiem, the owners of the Outside Inn, opened the
glamp-ground this summer — and wanted one of our own.
a compact downtown, anchored by buildings that date back
to another century’s heyday. The town’s well-preserved
Firehouse No. 1 is no longer a first responder. These
days, it’s the local history museum, manned by an
enthusiastic docent eager to share stories of early
settlers and the American Indians who originally populated
this land — and who were thrown off their land by the
federal government in 1964, a date of such relatively
recent vintage, it stops not just us but other visitors
can’t quite decide if we’re up for a swim — the Yuba
River swimming holes are legendary, but we’re tired and
hungry, the ice cream having reminded us that the whole
"life is short" thing is going to be shorter, if
we don’t mix in some protein and vegetables. And by the
time we’ve relaxed at Matteo’s Public, the Margulies
family’s locavore pub, where the chicken is Mary’s
Organic, the burger meat is sustainably raised and the
pulled pork is just plain yummy, swimming sounds like
entirely too much work.
head back to our glamping tent and dream of swimming
Truffle Shop: Chef Willem DeGroot’s chocolate truffle
shop is open daily at 408 Broad St., Nevada City;
Handmade, organic ice cream served in waffle cones daily
at 110 York St.; treatsnevadacity.com.
Store: Find bird feeders, solar lanterns, books and other
science and nature-related gifts at this shop, which is
open daily at 310 Broad St.; www.earthstorenc.com.
No. 1 Museum: This local history museum is open
Tuesday-Sunday at 214 Main St.;
Public: This locavore pub, which has live music every
night, is open for lunch and dinner Tuesday-Sunday, dinner
only on Monday. 300 Commercial St.; matteospublic.com.
Yuba River Park: This state park on Highway 49 has
riverside trails, swimming holes and other attractions.
Find details and maps at www.southyubariverstatepark.org.
Town Campground: Open just a few months, this new
campground offers tent sites, RV hook-ups and glamping
tents about a mile from Nevada City’s historic downtown;